Ask HN: Is recycling lithium virtue signaling or greener/cheaper than mining?

8 points by brntsllvn 4 days ago

The price of lithium carbonate is skyrocketing in response to demand for EVs (especially following the Inflation Reduction Act's EV tax incentives): https://www.axios.com/2022/09/21/lithium-prices-electric-vehicles-evs. Solid state batteries may reduce but not eliminate demand.

Ridwell is the only startup I can think of offering battery recycling as a service and it's just a fraction of their overall model.

Is lithium recycling from consumer electronics viable? "Green" in both senses of the word.

toomuchtodo 4 days ago

Redwood Materials (Founded by Tesla’s ex-CTO & cofounder JB Straubel) has agreements with Ford, Volvo, and Toyota and currently recycles 6GWh of cells annually [1] [2]

Sourcing from recycled cells is cheaper than mined inputs. With that said, batteries last much longer than anticipated [3] [4], so while it’s environmentally responsible to recycle end of life cells (versus landfilling or them ending up in an incinerator), they won’t be a significant material stream for some time.

[1] https://www.redwoodmaterials.com/news/redwood-materials-crea...

[2] https://www.autoweek.com/news/green-cars/a40613774/redwood-m...

[3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=32758881

[4] https://www.forbes.com/sites/carltonreid/2022/08/01/electric...

  • brntsllvn 4 days ago

    I'll keep some eyeballs on Redwood materials. Thanks!

JohnFen 4 days ago

Unless we can find a technology that seriously reduces or eliminates the need for lithium, recycling it will be mandatory or we'll simply run out.

How long it will be before we've used up the earth's lithium supply is very much in debate. It depends on how large the demand will be, which is a thing we can only speculate about.

But current estimates range from 20 to 200 years.

ZeroGravitas 2 days ago

Nothing is 'virtue signaling'.

It's not a real thing.

If you can rephrase the question without using that phrase then you should. If you can't rephrase the question without that phrase then you're not asking anything that can be answered.

horseAMcharlie 4 days ago

I don't know about whether lithium recycling supply chains are better or worse than lithium mining supply chains from an environmental or GhG perspective but there is no doubt a great deal of academic literature on the topic, as there is for all other economically significant metals. I do however know that the numbers for steel production are heavily in favor of recycling, if that helps.

Prices, being social constructs, have very little to do with the green attributes (or lack) of any traded commodity.

beauHD 4 days ago

Lithium is not viable long-term. In the short term it is, and the great fallacy of our time is that it is renewable. There are even memes on TikTok of people charging their Teslas with a petrol generator if you care to look.

The only real way to solve this is mining space asteroids which contain much more (rare) precious metals than our earth can provide.

  • tuatoru 4 days ago

    The bottleneck in supply that is causing high prices is not lack of lithium ore, but lack of refining capacity, that purifies lithium ore to lithium carbonate or lithium oxide at the purity required for making batteries.

    There is plenty of lithium out there. There are at present not enough refineries to clean it up, but that is easily fixed. The cure for high prices is high prices.

    Lithium is definitely renewable. It's more difficult than lead in lead-acid batteries (approx 99.5% recycled), but it's doable, and will eventually cost the same as lithium ore from mines. Recycling will start when there are a few million tons of dead lithium batteries to start recycling.

  • toast0 4 days ago

    > There are even memes on TikTok of people charging their Teslas with a petrol generator if you care to look.

    Well, I don't have petrol or a Tesla, but I use my plug in hybrid as the load when I run my portable gasoline powered generator once a month. Better for the generator engine break-in than running it idle, and better than running a dummy load that just warms the environment, and better than trying to get the well pump to run a lot to exercise the generator and waste the aquifer.